Escaping the heat, I headed towards the volcanoes where, according to the forecast, I was going to cool off a bit. Well, for once, the forecast wasn’t completely wrong – nobody mentioned anything about actually being able to see.
I’m driving on the HI-11, the tires of my car gliding across the asphalt so smoothly that I might be as well floating a few centimeters above the ground. There are no cars in front of me, no cars behind me and I’m just enjoying the view and the clear day now when I have the A/C on and am not dying of heat.
The cloud formation in front of me looks interesting. Hmmm… Maybe too interesting. Wait a minute, that’s where the volcano should be. I stop the car in the shoulder and jump out. That’s not an ordinary cloud, that’s… at least I think that that’s it. Is it, really?
Completely unaware of what’s to come in just a few days, I get back to the car and continue on my way to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, passing a warning sign telling me to watch out for I am now driving through a fault zone and the road may develop cracks without any warning, and then another one announcing high amount of vog (volcanic smog) and advising anyone with any breathing problems, children, and old people against visiting the park today.
I make my way through the gate, present proudly my National Parks Pass, and make my first stop at the visitor center which is still closed. Well, I knew it would be closed but was too excited to get here (and, yes, to escape the unbearable heat down at the beach).
It’s actually good to be here that early as I don’t have to spend ages looking for a parking spot. The air is cool, with tiny drops of water floating in the air. The mass of clouds above me is hanging so low that it looks like if it was about to fall down every second. (What I don’t know just yet is that there are actually two layers of these heavy clouds.) Goosebumps appear on my arms but I refuse to listen to that tiny voice in the back of my head (probably my grandma’s) to put my sweatshirt on. I’m enjoying the feeling of being almost cold too much.
I walk the short path to Volcano House through the lush greenery of the forest, past a steam vent hidden in the vegetation. This is the very first time in my life of being so close to and walking through, of being able to touch the plants of a tropical rainforest. I’ve never come in touch with this ecosystem before and my senses are almost overwhelmed.
In the visitor center (when it finally opens), I collect all the information possible, listen to another safety warning, then to a short presentation on how the islands were created, about the eruption near Hilo which happened several years ago, and how the Kona side of the island is expected to be next (none of us, not even the rangers, have any idea about the events Kīlauea is to bring soon).
And then, it’s time to see it with my own eyes – the crater. But first, I have to stop midway to the Jaggar Museum simply because I don’t want to cause a car crash. There’s so much steam raising from the ground around me that I can’t believe my eyes – or take them off of the steam vents.
I take a short walk to the outer edge of the crater. Steam is blowing over the railing, raising from below me, appearing and disappearing in different places at different intervals. My brain simply can’t comprehend that I’m really here and seeing it with my own eyes and I feel like if I was in a dream, even my body feels weirdly light.
In the Jaggar Museum, I read all about Pele and other gods ruling these islands, learn and repeat what I already knew about seismographs, and try to remember different names for different kinds of hardened lava. And then, yes, I go watch the crater.
I know I’m going to come back tonight and so I don’t spend too much time trying to battle my growing anxiety from the growing amount of tourists who finally got up and made their way here. Instead, I get back to my car and start driving along Chain of Craters Rd, stopping here and there to explore more.
For the first few miles, it all goes smoothly. I can’t but stop at a gate closing off Crater Rim Drive, impassable after the volcano decided to make it so. With grass growing on the asphalt and the road itself being consumed by the vegetation, Nature is claiming back what is hers.
I wonder at the amazing will to live of all the plants growing on the black lava fields, slowly starting to turn this desolation into what will be a rainforest in a few decades, hundreds of years. All that while the clouds seem to be getting thicker.
I keep driving South, down the road. I can see. I can see the road very well. I can still see. Oh wait. Oh shoot. I can’t see. I can’t see anything, I can’t see five feet in front of the car.
Do you remember how I told you about the second layer of clouds I had no idea was there? Yep, I just drove right into the lower layer, sticking onto the volcano on its southern slope. And this clouds makes such a bloody thick fog that driving in it is more or less a game of “Take the Right Guess Where the Road Is Or Destroy Your Car And Maybe Die”.
And it continues like this for another maybe 15 miles. But there is no way around, almost no place to turn and try to go back (and that would be probably even more dangerous than just going straight) and no point in waiting for it to go away as it can easily stick around here for the next few days. The very only solution is very-slowly forward.
But it’s worth it. Only three days later (I’m just joking, obviously), I leave the cloud like that *snap* and suddenly, I can see the road in front of me, and even the ocean (!) and the last mile or so is soon behind me, my car parked at the side of the road (after a mandatory turn at the end of said road and waving “hi” to the old ranger stationed there) and I’m walking towards the end of the road – it wasn’t used to be a dead end but the island once just decided to take its territory back and nothing could stop it (obviously, nothing and nobody even tried – what else can one do besides watch once the lava makes up its mind to go wherever it pleases).
Maybe it was fault of my clothes or maybe I looked too confident and knowledgeable – but two small groups of people stopped me during the first stretch of my way (from my car to Holei Sea Arch, I didn’t meet anyone on my way to the actual lava flow), asked me if I was a ranger, and wanted me to answer some of their questions.
I’ve never seen lava like that. Well, I’ve never seen lava close-up with my own eyes in my entire life up until now but would never ever even dare to imagine that it could look like this. The moment I sit down to take a break and investigate this substance, I think I might be hallucinating. If anyone knows what made that usually black stuff so colourful, let me know. My best guess is that it might be greasy from the salty air (?) which is probably nonsense.
But… like,… HOW?!
On my way back to the car, I stop at the Holei Sea Arch which I passed before and spend another forty minutes just staring at the wild water beating against the cliff. What would happen if I fell down? Well, I’d probably die but right now, seeing the ocean so free, I believe I’d actually spread my wings and fly.
The previous Searching-the-Aloha article is HERE.
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